Quality Assurance System: The Drivetrain of Institutional Effectiveness

Quality Assurance System

If you spend much time at all within the accreditation space, you’ll undoubtedly hear someone in higher education say, “Oh, we have a Quality Assurance System (QAS); we use _________.” They’ll proudly point to a license agreement they have with a company, where student work or assessment results are uploaded and stored. Some use that service to run data reports and are thrilled to share that it even “does data analysis.” Unfortunately, those well-intentioned individuals are missing the mark when it comes to a QAS.

A Quality Assurance System is really like the drivetrain of our car—without it we’d get nowhere, stuck along the side of the road. We’d know we had a problem, but without that drivetrain we may not know how to resolve our issue. We’d be wondering what to do next.

What a Quality Assurance System Isn’t

It’s important to remember that a Quality Assurance System isn’t a software program or a subscription-based website. It’s a well-planned and executed system by which institutions and individual programs monitor quality on key performance indicators. They then use insights gleaned from trendlines to make data-informed programmatic decisions.

Essential Components of a Healthy QAS

A healthy, solid quality assurance system requires a well-defined schema that involves looking at multiple data sources and being able to triangulate those data over time to look for patterns, trends, strengths, and weaknesses. And it shouldn’t just be one or two people reviewing data—there should be groups and advisory boards assigned to this task. Why? So steps can be taken to make improvements when the need arises.

High Quality Assessments


A well-functioning QAS requires using a blend of both proprietary and internally created high quality assessments. We know that data are only as good as the assessments themselves. Great care must be taken when creating key assessments to ensure that each measure what they are intended to measure (content validity) and that they see consistency in assessment results over multiple administrations (reliability). Surveys need to be created with a manageable number of questions, and items should be worded clearly. New assessments need to be piloted according to widely accepted protocols.

Real-Life Assessment Examples

Some examples of proprietary assessments that colleges and universities often use include the SAT, ACT, GRE, edTPA, Praxis, NCLEX, and so on. In other words, these are standardized high-stakes assessments that have been developed and road-tested by assessment development companies.

Internally created assessments, on the other hand, are those institutions create “in-house” for a variety of purposes. For example, it’s common for colleges to survey their students at the end of each semester to determine their satisfaction with their instructors, the quality of the food in the cafeteria, advising services, and so on. Faculty within programs also develop what they consider to be key assessments–perhaps 5-7 that are required by all students to monitor their skills development as they progress in a particular licensure track program. These are often cornerstone assessments in a select group of courses, and they can provide valuable insight regarding student performance as well as the quality of the program itself.

Stakeholder Input

A solid QAS depends on stakeholder input, both internal and external stakeholders. Faculty, student support staff, current students, graduates, and members of the community or business and industry should serve in advisory capacities. Each individual brings a unique set of experiences and perspectives to the table, and diversity of thought can enrich programs.

Real Life Stakeholder Examples

Internal stakeholders include current and past students, faculty members, academic advisors, and so on. External stakeholders are those on the outside of the college or university. They include employers, individuals who have graduated more than a year ago, members of relevant civic groups, and so on. It’s really important to garner the perspective of those who are from within the institution as well as those who are on the outside looking in.

The Ultimate Goal: Continuous Program Improvement

And finally, a well-functioning Quality Assurance System must enable institutions to make data-informed decisions with confidence, for the purpose of continuous program improvement. Staff must be able to identify specific areas of strength, as well as specific areas for growth and improvement. They need to know if an approach or a policy is working or not. And they need a leg to stand on when it comes to making programmatic changes. That leg needs to be grounded in high quality data. Having well-functioning Quality Assurance Systems will support colleges and universities in their accreditation efforts, state program approvals, and growth. They truly are the drivetrain of institutional effectiveness.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at: Roberta@globaleducationalconsulting.com 

Top Photo Credit: Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash